India coach Harendra Singh is well aware that his head is on the chopping block as the country gets ready to stage the 14th edition of the World Cup and what has not helped is the prevailing angst among the hockey bosses at the team’s failure to win the Asian Games gold medal.
Nearly a decade after India put their faith in foreign coaches and gave them leeway even after disastrous World Cup outings in 2010 and 2014, nothing seems to have changed for the coaches carrying Indian passports. If the Indian team is not able to punch well above its weight in this World Cup, and thereby bring a smile to the faces of the big bosses of Indian hockey, the axe may come out of the velvet-lined box.
In the eyes of Indian hockey bosses, coaches have always been a disposable commodity. With hundreds of ex-Olympians to choose from, irrespective of them having any coaching credentials, the national coach used to be a post-retirement benefit for former stars.
Long after the world had surged ahead, Indian hockey decided to put on the garb of professionalism. Long-term vision was not something the chiefs of Indian hockey boasted of. Sacking of coaches is the favourite pastime of the men who professed to guide the destiny of Indian hockey. This was the fate of Indian coaches, although long-term outlook of foreign coaches were acceptable.
Notwithstanding that the service terms of hockey coaches in India always had a dismissal clause written in bold letters, a poor show in the World Cup was not considered reason to send Jose Brasa (2010) and Terry Walsh (2014) packing. Both of them got directed to the exit gate within a year of those debacles, but the reasons were different. Brasa’s term ended with India’s failure to win the Guangzhou Asian Games gold medal — a sin that the team under Harendra has already committed.
Walsh guided India to the Asian Game gold medal at Incheon in 2014, but paid the cost of considering himself indispensable thereafter. Walsh wanted to call the shots and rewrite his own contract, and that led to hara-kiri. To Hockey India’s credit, foreign coaches now deserve a treatment no different from their Indian counterparts. We are not talking about the salary here.
Failing to retain the Asian Games gold medal and thereby secure passage to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Harendra’s squad has already muddied the waters. A World Cup at home prevented large-scale changes, but some seasoned players were shown the door. It is the worst-kept secret of Indian hockey that the national coach is living on borrowed time and even the squad given to him may have come through other channels of approval.
Harendra may have brought in effective communication with the players — after all he speaks in a language understood by most players — but the squad selection seems to have strange connotations. With the over-indulgent inputs from Hockey India’s High Performance Director placing speed over the ability to get into the right positions, the selection qualification for the national squad has been confined to two words: young legs.
For a man facing the possibility of execution, Harendra is quite relaxed and composed, even nonchalant. He claims that he “relishes pressure” and always “lives in the present.”
The Indian squad is aware that a good show in front of indulgent home fans and a quarter-final appearance that is within reach of this squad could make it a fruitful World Cup. But then, Harendra is used to the mood swings of hockey administrators in this country. He has been there before a couple of times and tasted the bitter medicine. If his wards can use the momentum of the crowd support and prove their mettle, it could be the biggest moment for the coach who saw opportunity slip out of his hands in the 2000 Olympic Games and the 2010 Asian Games, where he was an assistant coach.
Forget the boasts of India being among the top six nations in world hockey today, there is considerable worry within the Indian federation that India faces up uphill task to qualify for the Olympic Games after squandering the chance to earn the one spot on offer at the Asian Games. When Japan, the 2020 Olympic hosts, won both the men and women’s Asian Games titles, that one spot for the Asian champions went to the general world pool. Olympic qualification from here onwards can be an uphill task.
Updated Date: Nov 29, 2018 15:35:19 IST